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 CNS Story:

POPE-ANGELUS Feb-14-2005 (500 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope blesses pilgrims from apartment window; aide reads Angelus talk

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Making his first public appearance since returning from the hospital, Pope John Paul II blessed a crowd of pilgrims from his apartment window but let an aide read his weekly talk.

He thanked people for their recent prayers and said he always needed their help to carry on as pope.

"Dear brothers and sisters, welcome," the pope said Feb. 13 in a hoarse and weak voice. Then he stayed at the window as Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, an assistant secretary of state, read his text.

The pope looked alert and occasionally raised his hands to punctuate the multilingual greetings read in his name. At the end of the 10-minute appearance, the pope read a blessing in Latin and wished the crowd below a pleasant Sunday.

The pope was cheered at length, and a huge banner held by young people in the square read: "Welcome back!"

It was the first public glimpse of the 84-year-old pontiff since he returned in a popemobile from Rome's Gemelli Hospital Feb. 10, following 10 days of treatment for breathing difficulties brought on by the flu.

In the written text of his Angelus talk, the pope thanked everyone for their prayers during his hospitalization, saying: "I always feel the need of your help before the Lord, in order to carry out the mission Jesus entrusted to me."

The papal text offered a brief reflection on Lent as a season that reminds Christians of a fundamental truth: "One does not enter into the eternal life without carrying our cross in union with Christ."

"One does not gain happiness and peace without facing interior combat with courage. It is a combat won with the weapons of penitence: prayer, fasting and works of charity," he said.

"All this should be accomplished in a hidden way, without hypocrisy, in a spirit of sincere love for God and others," he said.

The pope's text also made an appeal for the liberation of an Italian reporter, Giuliana Sgrena, kidnapped recently in Iraq.

Aides said the pope would ease into his regular Vatican schedule. He skipped a scheduled appearance at a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for the World Day of the Sick Feb. 11, and he had no appointments the following day.

A Vatican press statement said that on the evening of Feb. 13, the pope was scheduled to be present at the start of his weeklong Lenten retreat, which he normally attends with members of the Roman Curia. The Italian news agency ANSA, however, reported that the pope did not attend the first session and followed it instead via a video link in his apartment.

The Vatican press office had no comment the following day on whether the pope was attending the retreat gatherings or watching it on video.

This year's retreat was being preached by Italian Bishop Renato Corti of Novara. Bishop Corti said he was asked to preach on the Year of the Eucharist, which began in October.


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